Friday, November 18, 2016

NIEMOLLER FOR TODAY

Martin Friedrich Gustav Niemoller was a German Lutheran pastor and founder of the "Confessing Church," that small minority that opposed Nazism.  He spent 7 years in Nazi concentration camps.  He is remembered for the quotation that some consider a poem:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me --
And there was no one left to speak for me."

There are many variations on the quotation, since Niemoller often spoke extemporaneously and was widely quoted (and possibly misquoted).  Some versions include Communists, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses -- all groups which suffered under Hitler.

Niemoller believed that the German Protestant churches were in some way complicit in the persecution through their silence.

America has chosen a man for President who in many ways is bringing back memories of Der Fuhrer.  I recognize that practically every President has been compared to Hitler by some group and that none has even come close.  But Donald Trump is different!  He is a man who has preached and stirred up hatred for certain ethnic and religious minorities, seemingly blaming them for what's wrong with American.  He has received endorsement from radical White Supremacists and numerous hate groups,  while only mildly distancing himself from them.  And what has the (white) church done?  Some have even endorsed this man.  Others have given bland counsel on submission and unity.  Some have publicly defended this man and even served as his "advisors."  And the rest of us have simply kept silent.  So with apologies to Martin Niemoller I decided to rewrite his poem for today:

First he'll come for the Mexicans,
but we won't say anything because we're not Mexicans.
Then he'll come for the Muslims,
but we won't say anything because we're not Muslims.
Then he'll come for the African Americans,
but we won't say anything because we're not African Americans.
Then he'll come for the Native Americans,
but we won't say anything because we're not Native Americans.
Then he'll come for the news media,
but we won't say anything because we're not of the news media.
Then he'll come for the feminists,
but we won't say anything because we're not feminists.
Then he'll come for the gays,
but we won't say anything because we're not gay.
But he won't come for us because we voted for him.

I believe that perhaps we may need a "Confessing Church" again today. 

Revised 12/3/2016


               
 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

DOES UNITY TRUMP TRUTH?


Most articles I read in Evangelical Christian magazines and websites since the recent presidential election are attempts at being irenic.  There are pleas for unity and sometimes gentle rebukes to those who are upset.  Politics we are told, should not divide the church.  Those who voted for the losing side are warned that they may have put their hope in a particular candidate rather than the Lord.  This is a time for Christian unity.  (I must confess that often I begin reading these articles, but don't finish.)  Then there are the Facebook posts reprimanding those who protest, often accompanied with a few Scripture verses on submission to human government.

Unity and submission; that sums it all up.  Your side lost; get over it!  Quit being a crybaby!

However, as I think back on the history of the church, and as I ponder the Christian heroes of the last two millennia, I am often struck by the fact that these heroes were not submissive and they didn't strive for unity at all costs.  In fact, they often were the focal points of great division.  They were men and women who dared to speak truths that were contrary to contemporary church thinking.

There was John Huss (or Jan Hus) who dared to speak out against the medieval church in Bohemia and who was executed for his words and actions.  John Wycliffe who dared to translate the Bible into the English language, followed by William Tyndale who did the same, called by some God's Outlaw, who was also executed for his "crime."  And, of course, there was  Martin Luther who split the German church by his insistence on preaching righteousness by faith.  We who call ourselves Protestants celebrate these men as our heroes.

And, of course, there were many more - Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, both banished by the Puritan Church of New England for preaching and teaching a Christianity that was not tied to the colonial government.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, who stood against the evils of Naziism and was put to death for his efforts.  Martin Niemoller who did the same, was imprisoned for his stand and somehow survived.

We tend to forget that among other things, the Civil Rights' movement was essentially a religious movement, primarily led by Christians - even preachers, especially Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., another martyr.  Many (most?) of his opponents were members of southern white churches.

In all of these cases, those we consider heroes were bucking an established church, one that had a too cozy relationship with the government.  And they were condemned for, among other things, their divisiveness and refusals to submit.

We need not stop there; we could go back to the prophets of ancient Israel, who spoke against the apostasy of their nation, the only nation that could lay claim to be a nation chosen by God.  Just looking into one book of the Bible - 1 Kings - we find Elijah, whom King Ahab called "the troubler of Israel" (18:17) and Micaiah of whom the same king said, "I hate him because he doesn't prophesy good concerning me, but evil" (22:8).  And there were many, many more, some who died for their stand.

And dare we forget the One who is at the center of our faith - Jesus?  He did not come to bring unity within the "church" of His day - the Jewish leaders who were only too cozy with their Roman conquerors.  He even made the following troubling claim:  "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household" (Matthew 10:34-36).  Not much unity and submission here!

I believe that a great segment of the Church of Jesus Christ has lost its witness through its allegiance to one political party, to the point that the candidates and the pronouncements of that party have taken precedence over the principles of Christianity.

America has elected as their president one who has preached an America that is in contradiction to the morals and teachings of Jesus.  I will not elaborate on his pronouncements here (see previous post); anyone who has seen and heard him on television news should know what he stands for.  Of course, there are some who will tell us (as I have been told), "America is not the church!"  And they are correct; we live in a secular nation that has to quite an extent, abandoned its Christian background.

But this man was endorsed by many prominent (mostly white) Christians who are considered spokespersons for the Christian community.  And the statistics tell us that 4 out of 5 evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.  It looks to me as though the church has once again crawled in bed with the enemy.

As I have said before, I fear for my nation, but I fear more for my church.  And I make no apologies for the position I have taken.

It may be that the time will come when we will have to say with Martin Luther, "I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen!"

Saturday, November 12, 2016

JEREMIAH, WHERE ARE YOU NOW THAT WE NEED YOU?

Jeremiah was a prophet who spoke to the nation of Judah in her last days. The LORD Himself told Jeremiah that he was known and consecrated before he was formed in the womb, and appoint "a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5).  Despite Jeremiah's objections the LORD gave him his assignment.

     "See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
     to pluck up and to break down,
     to destroy and to overthrow,
     to build and to plant."  (1:10)
 
Jeremiah was given an assignment that would seem to us to be paradoxical.  He was to call his nation to repentance for their sin and at the same time to announce inevitable judgment.  He knew that he was speaking to a nation - his nation - that was doomed.  It appears that he was not happy with his assignment and his message.  He was filled with grief over the doom of his native land.
 
Jeremiah was a patriot.  He loved his country.  He wept over its forthcoming doom.  Yet as we read his story, we find that his own people hated him and considered him a traitor.  He was imprisoned for his message - cast into a slime filled pit.

And Jeremiah argued with the LORD.  He even at times appeared to be angry.  Much of his book is a dialogue.  Often when given a message, he responds and complains.

"Then I said, 'Ah Lord GOD, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying it will be peace, whereas a sword touches their throat.'" (4:10)
     "My anguish, my anguish!  I writhe in pain!
          Oh the walls of my heart
      My heart is beating wildly;
           I cannot keep silent,
      for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
           the alarm of war." (4:19)
      
He wants to run away from the sight of the destruction.
      "Oh that my head were waters
      and my eyes a fountain of tears,
      that I might weep day and night
      for the slain of the daughter of my people!
      Oh that I had in the desert
      a travelers' lodging place,
      that I might leave my people
      and go away from them!
      For they are all adulterers,
      a company of treacherous men." (9:1, 2)
 
And on and on the tragic tale goes.

Tuesday, November 8, America elected Donald Trump as their next president.  Here is a man who preaches hatred for Mexican immigrants and for Muslims, who mocks the handicapped and war heroes, who has boasted about sexually molesting women, who claims he has no need for forgiveness; I could go on and on, but most of us have heard his pronouncements daily on the news.  He has received the endorsement of many "Christian" leaders, and members of his own party - even those he has verbally degraded - as well as the KKK and other right-wing hate groups.

So what is the reaction of the Christian community?  Bland, sappy messages on unity.  Where is the anger?  Where is the righteous indignation?  When I express anger, I am reminded that God is in control, that He sets up kings, etc., as if I didn't know that.

God is sovereign.  Nothing happens that is somehow out of His plan.  And yet He holds us accountable for our actions.  If we really believe in His sovereignty we know that He not only set up Trump, He also set up Hitler, but that did not absolve the German church for their complicity.

I haven't, like Jeremiah, argued with God.  I don't know His reason for allowing Donald Trump to become our president.  My fear is that the case may be as John Calvin is reputed to have said, "When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers."

[NOTE:  I posted the following paragraphs on my Facebook page at various times and received mixed reactions.  I am not reproducing the comments.]
************
Bill Ball, November 9 at 9:07 p.m.
     I read posts by many who are telling us that we as Christians should seek unity after the election.  Pardon me but where were the calls for unity during the past year and a half when many of our "Christian" leaders were endorsing a man for president who preached disunity and hatred for all who are different.  I can't seek unity with those who reject everything I want to stand for as a follower of Christ.
 
Bill Ball, November 9 at 2:20 p.m.
     Eight years ago America elected a good man as President and for eight years we heard slander and conspiracy theories and hatred directed at him by our family and "friends" on the right, most of whom claimed to be Christians.  Now America has chosen a hate mongering racist xenophobic bully for president and our family and "friends" tell us it's God's will and that we should not be angry.  Well I AM angry.  I'm angry at the pious hypocrisy most of all!!!
 
Bill Ball, November 9 at 8:30 p.m.
     I am an unapologetic Democrat.  I have not voted for a Republican since Gerald Ford.  I have been disappointed in many elections.  I have respected the decisions made by the American voters and the man chosen for president every time.  But this election was different.  The American voters have chosen a president who has spouted hatred for those he thinks are unworthy of our country including our present President.  I cannot respect a man like Donald Trump.  I am not just being a sore loser.  I fear for our country and especially those who are minorities.  I fear he will set back all the progress America has made in human rights.
************ 
I'm still fearful for my country and even more fearful for the church in America.  And I'm still angry at the hypocrisy of the Christian leaders who backed Trump and at the hypocrisy of those who want me to just be nice!


 
 
 
 

 
 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

WHITE TRASH

I have been mystified by the seemingly bizarre phenomenon of the rise of Donald Trump.  Here is a man who is (or at least claims to be) a multi-billionaire, who lives a sexually immoral life and boasts about it, who makes racist, misogynistic remarks, who mocks those he considers losers, who contradicts himself constantly (sometimes in the same sentence).  And yet he is adored, even worshipped (?) by a large number of the American people who are ready to make him our next president.

Even if we ignore the large number of blindly committed Republicans and the power greedy religious leaders, we are still left with a huge number of devoted trumpists.  Who are these people?  Are they really just "a basket of deplorables" as Hillary Clinton says?

When I heard about the book White Trash:  The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America, I felt I might find some answers or at least insights.  I was not disappointed.  This is an alternative history that ranks up close to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and while it does not go into the depth of detail of Zinn's book, it does fill in much detail and gives a different perspective from the history we learned in school.

The author, Nancy Isenberg, is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU and is the author of other non-fiction books as well as a regular writer for Salon.com.  Though the book covers much material in its 300+ pages, reading it was never boring.  In fact I found it a real page-turner.

This is not a book about heroes.  It does not paint our founding fathers as exemplary.  It does not glorify the "American dream."  We are not, nor were we ever, a "city on a hill."  Rather we are given a history of the underclass, of those who are to a great extent, ignored by the writers of history.  It is as well, a history of the attitudes of those who did "make history" toward those regarded as inferior.

The underclass has always been with us, and we might even say that our nation was begun as a dumping ground for the poor of England and elsewhere in Europe.  They were always there - on America's frontiers, fighting her wars.  As Ms. Isenberg tells us, "Long before they were today's 'trailer trash' and 'rednecks,' they were called 'lubbers' and 'rubbish' and 'clay-eaters' and 'crackers' -- and that's just scratching the surface" (page 2).

The author traces the history of these people through the centuries -- and they were and still are, as she reminds frequently, still with us; and they are us.  The colonizers and early settlers, the squatters on the frontier were there at the beginning and were part of the westward movement of American "civilization."

There were periods of our history when these people were looked down on as an inferior breed; racism and classism were not that far apart.  The history goes on through the frontier settlement, even our first (but not our last) white trash president, Andrew Jackson.  The antebellum south was populated with these, and it was there when racism and classism were played against each other.  It seems that one way of keeping the lower classes in line was - and still is - is to give them some to look down on.

The author relates the history  of the eugenics movement in this country and the talk of "good breeding."  It seems that Hitler was not that far removed from some of the thinking in America.  While no one would advocate his extreme "solution," it was thought that the problems of the lower classes could be dealt with by proper breeding, even "eugenic sterilization."

The history is traced through the depression, the dust bowl, the "war on poverty," but always bringing to mind those on the bottom rungs.  Though at times the "country boy" or the "redneck" gained popularity, such as with country and country rock music, it was often double edged.  Much of our pop culture was thinly disguised mockery.  TV programs such as "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Dukes of Hazzard," even "Andy Griffith" portrayed the lower classes as ignorant and uncouth.

So where is this book going?  Ms. Isenberg in her final chapter tell us, "If this book accomplishes anything it will be to have exposed a number of myths about the American dream, to have disabused readers of the notion that upward mobility is a function of the founders' ingenious plan, or that Jacksonian democracy was liberating, or that the Confederacy was about states' rights rather than preserving class and racial distinctions" (page 313).

As far as the question I raised at the beginning of this post, she answers it well.  I asked "who are these people (the followers of Donald Trump)?'  Her answer:  "Today as well we have a large unbalanced electorate that is regularly convinced to vote against its collective self-interest" (page 313).

We have people in America - white people - who feel beaten down.  They feel the system has failed them.  The political party that at one time was their hope, has ignored them.  They, as we all do, "need" someone to look down on, someone to blame.  And we have a demagogue who has found a way to take advantage of this need.  It has worked many times in the past.  They are taught to fear and at the same time to revile Mexicans, Moslems, blacks, gays, feminists and that black man in the White House.

But these are not people to look down on as simply "a basket of deplorables."  They are real people with real needs.  They are a part of my background, even my family.  What this book has done for me is convict me of my own classism.  In my abhorrence of racism I have found myself using derogatory terms such as are used in this book, to put down those I consider racist.  How often have I referred to them as rednecks or crackers or hillbillies or trailer trash?

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves, He was clear that that term "neighbor" included everyone, even those who are unloving and unlovable.

Father forgive me for not loving my neighbor.

Friday, September 16, 2016

A RECENT DEATH?

"The reports of my recent death have been greatly exaggerated."
- attributed to Mark Twain

I just finished reading the book, The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones.  As I am a Christian who happens to be white and American, I felt I needed to be informed concerning the demise of a group of which I am apparently a member.  The book has enthusiastic blurbs on the jacket by a number of men whom I respect.

Robert Jones, we are told, "is the founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and a leading scholar and commentator on religion and politics."  He informs us that he was raised in White Christian America (henceforth to be referred to as WCA) and comes from a long line of Georgia Baptists, though he does not claim to share their faith.

I have been concerned for many years about the politically rightward drift of many of my fellow Christians, especially of those in leadership roles.  My concern involves the association by many, of these three terms as describing themselves:  white, Christian and American; for some the words are practically synonymous.  So I wanted to see if this author could offer some encouragement.  Before I make further comments on the arguments presented, I must say I appreciate the data given.

The book begins with an obituary for WCA.  WCA is, as presented in this book, White Protestant American Christianity, which the author tells us, can be divided into two groups:  Mainline Protestantism and Evangelical Protestantism.  He starts with the stories of three buildings which he apparently considers allegories for the history of the decline of WCA:  the United Methodist building in Washington, DC (ca. 1923), the Interchurch Center in New York City (ca. 1960) and Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA (ca. 1980).  The decline of these three began almost as soon as they were built.

The author tells us that his story does not deal with the distinctions between the sub-groups, but deals with WCA as a "single dynasty."  "The key question here is not why one white Protestant subgroup is faring worse than another, but why white Protestantism as a whole - arguably the most powerful cultural force in the history of our country - has faded.  This is a story of theology and culture, but it is also a story of powerful demographic changes."  (page 40)

Chapter 2:  "Vital Signs ... " is the most informative with charts and graphs to back up its claims; this data makes a clear case that WCA is declining in number.  Though Mainline Protestantism was the first to decline from its position of power, Evangelical Protestantism is now beginning to decline - at least as a percentage of the American population.

Then follows Chapter 3:  "Politics:  The End of White Christian Strategy; Chapter 4:  Family:  Gay Marriage and WCA; Chapter 5:  Race: Desegregating WCA.  In these chapters the author presents brief histories of the actions of WCA, with criticisms for the behavior of Evangelicalism and mild praise for the behavior of Mainline Protestantism.  Most of the material in these chapters has been heard before and it is here that the author clearly reveals opinions that are sometimes biased.

The 6th and final chapter is entitled "A Eulogy for WCA."  In it the author uses Kubler - Ross' well-known stages of grief and applies them to WCA:  "Denial and Anger," "Bargaining," "Depression and Acceptance."  Though I don't believe their use was meant to be humorous, I actually found this chapter a bit amusing.

So?  What to do with this book?  I fear that like many books of this sort, it will be applauded by those who agree, and either condemned or ignored by those who disagree.  However, I find myself in some place in between.

Mr. Jones appears to be one who is not really mourning the end of WCA.  And while I agree with him in many areas, I find my major area of disagreement is that we come from two very different starting points.  The author seems to judge WCA from modern, pragmatic criteria, rather than a biblical, spiritual base.  His is the judgment of the "natural man" (to use Paul's term) or the man "under the sun"(to use Ecclesiastes' term).  So the following are my views on WCA:

- First, I agree that these three have been identified too closely by many of my Christian brothers and sisters.  We have failed to get out of our cultural shell and to judge our culture from a truly biblical worldview.

- The political adventures of many prominent Evangelicals have brought shame on the Name of the Lord.  Sadly this is becoming more and more evident in this election season.  What this book brought out is the idea that (perhaps) this is a last-ditch effort to recover an influence that is rapidly slipping away.

- The issue of race has been a burden of mine for a long time.  White Christians judge their brothers and sisters from their own WCA perspective and fail to deal with the blatant racism that permeates not only our politics, but our churches themselves.  The chapter on race points out many of these faults, criticizes and praises some, but seems to be brought more from an outside perspective.

- The issue of the church's dealings with the LGBT community is not as clear-cut as that of race, in spite of the claims made in this book.  With the race issue efforts can and must be made to clear away non-biblical traditions; but with the issue of sexual orientation, we cannot clear away biblical teachings to just get along.  We must learn to love those who are different, but we cannot endorse certain behaviors.

- The book did not (I feel) deal enough with the "America" part.  There is much more that needs to be said about the identification of Christianity with the super patriotism that is being over-emphasized by many today.

So is WCA dying?  I suppose so.  But Christianity is not!  I believe we need to shed WCA's trappings and live a purer Christianity - one that identifies with those of other ethnic and national groups.  Perhaps the information in this book will lead to a Christianity that is cleaner, purer and less encumbered with wrong standards and goals.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

GOD AND COUNTRY


Well, it's that time of the year when I feel like skipping church.  Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, and later Veterans' Day, are usually extremely uncomfortable times to attend Sunday morning worship services.  There will usually be a bit of flag-waving and we'll sing patriotic hymns; perhaps we'll see a slide show praising our Founding Fathers or veterans or something like that.  Many in the congregation will seem more enthusiastic than usual.  And I - and I suppose a few others - will feel very uncomfortable - that is if we attend at all.  (I will also!  Uni)
Perhaps some of my readers will agree with me; some on the other hand, on reading the above paragraph may question my patriotism, even my devotion to Jesus.  My contention, however, is that my commitment to the Lordship of Christ precludes the above behavior.  As I understand it, Jesus does not wish to share the platform with others.

This has nothing to do with my "patriotism"!  I love my country; I pray for it; I thank God for America every day.  I try to perform my duties as a citizen:  I pay my taxes; I vote; I fly my flag on appointed days; I even served as a Marine Reserve.  But this has every-thing to do with my commitment to Christ!

Those of the early church in the Roman Empire confessed "Jesus is Lord" in spite of the demands that they confess "Caesar is Lord."  And many died for that distinction.  The Roman Empire was not too concerned about the religious beliefs of its subjects, as long as they could make the required confession.  But the followers of Jesus could not do so.  For them there was only one Lord.  Should it not be the same for us?

America is not a theocracy; it is not a "Christian nation"; it is a secular democracy and as such, it is part of "the kingdom of the world," which will one day "become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" (Revelation 11:15).  But we're not there yet.

I  may attend some Fourth of July celebration, but I'll probably stay home and watch the celebrations on TV.  I'll grow teary eyed as patriotic hymns are sung and as I sing along.  I may even post Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful" on my facebook page.  But I pray that I may always recognize that my allegiance to my country, as all my other allegiances will be under the Lordship of Christ.

Friday, June 17, 2016

WOULD JESUS GO TO A GAY BAR?

Most Americans were appalled at the slaughter in a gay night club in Orlando this past week.  The outpouring of sympathy and compassion for the survivors as well as the victims' families was quick and seemingly universal.  The words and acts of comfort, while never adequate, helped to soften the blow, at least for those of us not involved.  As a follower of Jesus, I was blessed, even proud to hear of many of the churches, of the ordinary Christians, as well as some of our spokesmen reaching out.
 
The pundits and politicians, however, were confused.  Should we call this a hate crime or a terrorist act?  After all, the perpetrator, a Muslim, boasted that he was doing this as a follower of ISIS. And I believe many in the Evangelical community are also confused.  We have been repeatedly told by many who claim to be our spokesmen that Islam is a great danger to America, threatening all we hold dear.  And on the other hand, we've been told that there is a conspiracy afoot by the LGBT community and their "liberal" fellow travelers to destroy America.  Throw in the fact that there are those of us who believe that every American has the right to own a semi-automatic weapon of mass destruction, and one can see why we are confused.  Guns, Islam and the gay rights' agenda - three issues that are perceived as hot button issues - have converged in this horrible act.

But where would Jesus be in all of this?  Where would we find the One who was accused of being "a glutton and a wine guzzler, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34)?  Some readers were probably put off by the title of this post, but really, where would He be?

I believe His heart would be with the ones who reached out to those who were devastated by this tragedy.  He would be with the survivors - people already discriminated  against and now traumatized .  He would be with the families of the dead and wounded, some of whom may have found out for the first time that their loved one was gay or lesbian or transgender and some whom may not have been reconciled with their loved one's condition.  And He would be with the family of the dead killer as they attempt to deal with his actions.  And He would be with those of the Muslim community who now find themselves even more the objects of suspicion and loathing.

I believe we who are followers of Jesus, have a responsibility as well as an opportunity to help these who are all victims, to know the love of Jesus.  They need to know the loving compassionate Jesus, the One who left heaven's glory to become one of us.  They don't need more condemnation and political pronouncements. 

"When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  Matthew 9:36

Friday, June 10, 2016

A LOVE AFFAIR GONE WRONG

" ... that the living may know that the Most High is Sovereign over the Kingdom of Man and grants it to whom He wishes, and He sets over it the lowest of men" (Daniel 4:17).

These words were spoken to Nebuchadnezzar, the great world ruler of his day, one year before he was driven mad.  We may see them as an ancient rebuke to a man, arrogant in the belief that all of his great realm was the product of his own doing.  We may fail to see that it is a truth as relevant today as it was two and a half millennia ago.

Today we see and hear in the world many Nebuchadnezzars, "speaking loud boasts of folly" (2 Peter 12:18 ESV).  And in the good old USA we have a loud mouthed contender for President who fits the description.  It seems that daily some new arrogant racist remarks spew from his lips.  And he is now the candidate of one of our two major political parties.

It wasn't long ago that Donald Trump was considered by many to be an anomaly, a rich source of material for the late night comics - nothing more.  The pundits and talking heads were predicting his disappearance from the Presidential race at any moment.  The pundits are no longer making predictions; their speculations are presented with great caution.  The comedians are getting sharper and more pointed in their comments.  Will this man become our next President??  If so, the statement quoted above will be verified.

As one who has been attempting for the last 60 years to observe and interpret American politics and history from a Christian and biblical perspective, I have been trying to wrap my head around all of this.  Presidents and Presidential candidates have come and gone, but never anything quite like what we are now seeing.  How is God working all of these things for good?  How should I as a follower of Christ, react?

Some pundits and even scholars have cautiously predicted the possible collapse of the Republican party  That's doubtful; we've heard similar predictions about one party or the other every election cycle in my memory.  But perhaps what is happening will lead to the collapse of the Religious Right, or at least the (illicit?) love affair between many Evangelical Christian leaders and the Republican Party.

To the embarrassment of many followers of Christ we have heard for years those who are (or believe they are) our spokesmen making authoritative political pronouncements, even to the point of endorsing Presidential candidates.  We have winced as we have heard people whom we have respected - even admired - inserting their foot in their mouths.

And here we are today - Republican leaders doing their little two-step:  "Donald Trump may be a hateful racist bigoted bully who seems to have no concept of truth, but we'll still endorse his candidacy."  Really?  Well, what about those on the Religious Right, some of whom have already given him their blessing?  Are they going to do the same?  Or will they (we} finally realize that they (we) need to keep their (our) mouths shut and get back to the business that Jesus left us here to do - making disciples, loving our neighbors?

I can't predict what will occur on election day or in the four years following.  I do hope, however, that somehow God will use whatever He sovereignly brings to pass to purify His church and to get the church in America (myself included) back on course.

            SEE:   I'm a Member of a Voting Bloc?
                        She's a Good Hearted Woman
 
 

Monday, May 9, 2016

OUR FRIEND AND MENTOR GLADIS

Last Friday, May 6, Uni felt an urge to call Gracie, the daughter of our old friend Gladis Gibson, in El Paso, TX.  We had heard that Gladis was in hospice care and her health was rapidly declining.

When Gracie answered, Uni said simply, "I called to ask how your mother is doing?"

Gracie replied, "She passed this morning."

This was not a blow to us, as we had known it was coming for quite awhile; nevertheless, we still grieved.  Gladis would have been 92 on her next birthday.

We had known Gladis for over 60 years.  She and her husband Bill had had a great influence on our walk with Christ during that period.  I was honored to do Bill's memorial service in 2009 when he went to be with the Lord.

I first met Gladis and Bill in 1956.  I was 19 years old and it had been only a year since I had committed my life to Christ.  "Churchy" things were still new to me.  I knew that the little church we attended supported foreign missionaries, but at first my opinion of missionaries was that they were social misfits, isolationists, old maids - people who couldn't make it in the "real world."  Two events happened to change that opinion.

The first was a news item about what the world considered a horrible tragedy.  On a sandy beach along an unknown river deep in the jungles of Ecuador, a number of young American missionaries were savagely killed by members of a tribe known then as Aucas.  The reports of their discovery made headlines throughout the country.  LIFE magazine did a huge spread of pictures.  Radio and TV commentators discussed the event.  It was, for much of America, a first exposure to independent missions and to many it seemed senseless.  But this event had an impact on many in my generation.

The second was the meeting with the Gibsons, then in their 30's, not long after that event.  Bill was from our little church in Michigan and Gladis was from Oklahoma.  They had met in Bible college and had been sent out by our church as missionaries with Gospel Missionary Union, an independent mission organization.  They were at the time on a one year furlough from serving in the jungles of Ecuador.

Bill and Gladis had served with those martyred men and their families.  They were dear friends and had known of the plans to bring the Gospel of Christ to this stone-age tribe that had never had contact with "civilization" before.  They had prayed and planned with these men and their wives and families.  Bill regaled us and our church youth group with stories of their adventures in the jungles.  He had even flown over the Auca village with Nate Saint, the missionary pilot, one of the martyrs.

The Gibsons were not simply good story tellers, they were normal people, yet people who had given their lives completely to Christ, and they spoke of those martyred men as being ordinary people just as they were.  I was impressed with Gladis when she played softball with us at a church picnic; she was stronger than many of us men.  She could hit harder and run faster than any of us.  As she later confessed, "I spend a great amount of my time trekking and sometimes running, through the jungle."

The Gibsons took Uni and me under their wings.  They mentored us - not by teaching us theology or how-tos, but simply by modeling the Christian life.

Later, when we moved from Michigan to Texas, we lost track of each other for a few years.  Then when I was attending Dallas Theological Seminary, Bill looked me up and found me in the coffee room.  The Gibsons were then serving in El Paso as directors of GMU's ministry in South Texas and Northern Mexico.  The friendships resumed.

Down through the years, Bill Gibson would sometimes speak at churches I pastored.  They'd also sing and Gladis would play her accordion.  I was privileged to be the speaker at the biennial retreats held for the South Texas missionaries, as well as in the little chapel where they were active.  Sometimes I would receive a phone call from Gladis informing me, "Our church bulletin says that you will be preaching on _______.”  We'd make arrangements at home, jump in the car and drive to El Paso for the service.

Gladis and Bill never ceased being missionaries for Christ, even after they retired.  They continued to serve in Grace Chapel in El Paso.  They started a Bible study in the mobile home park where they lived; it's still going on.  Gladis served as an R.N. in a clinic.  When she could no longer care for herself and needed to live in an independent living facility, she immediately started some Bible studies in both English and Spanish, with other residents and the care-giving personnel.

"Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of His saints."  Psalm 116:15

Thursday, March 24, 2016

THE SLANDERED DISCIPLE


Meditations on the Cross, 12

Though all four Gospels tell us much about the 12 men whom Jesus called as disciples and later named as apostles, we also find a much larger number who responded to His call.  The usual picture brought up to our minds is of a large crowd of bearded men accompanying Him in His travels.  However Luke in his Gospel adds to our picture.
Luke 8:1-3:  "And it came about ... that He was going through from town to town and village to village preaching and proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and the twelve were with Him and also some women whom He had healed from evil spirits and sicknesses:  Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, Susanna, and many other women, who were providing for them out of their own means."
 
These were women, apparently all of some wealth, who like the twelve, had left all and were travelling with Jesus and providing support.  And they were there watching as Jesus was hanging from the cross.  They were there when He died.
 
Luke 24:49:  "And all His acquaintances and the women who had followed Him from Galilee, were standing at a distance watching these things."  Matthew (27:55-56) and Mark (15:40-41) also tell us of these women.  Matthew and Mark name some of these women and both tell us that Mary Magdalene was among them.   John too, tells us that she was standing "by the cross" right there with Jesus' mother and some others (John 19:25).
 
Who was Mary Magdalene, the only woman mentioned in all four gospels as being with Jesus at the cross?  I'm afraid most people who have a bit of knowledge about the Gospel stories, believe they know who she was.  She was a prostitute, right?  We've seen her in countless movies - sometimes portrayed as a sad, worn, haggard woman, sometimes as a sex-bomb, but definitely a prostitute - at least a converted one.  We've possibly even listened to sermons in which we were told that Jesus can even save someone like her!  If we look up the word "magdalene" in our dictionaries, we'd find one of its definitions to be "a reformed prostitute."
 
But where in any of the Gospel accounts is there even a hint of this former occupation?  There isn't!  Though Luke tells us that she had been demon-possessed, the context implies that the demons were a cause of some illness from which she had been healed.  There is no hint of any misbehavior on her part.  She is rather presented as a woman of means who contributed to the support of Jesus' ministry.
 
Usually in questioning those who believe the gossip about Mary, I find that she is confused and conflated with other women found in the Gospels:  the "town sinner" who had anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 7:36-50 (whose story immediately precedes the mention of Mary Magdalene); another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who also anointed Jesus in John 12:1-8; and sometimes the woman caught in adultery in John 8:8-11.
 
But though Mary Magdalene's story is not that of popular mythology or Hollywood romanticism and sensationalism, it is much more exciting and definitely more important.  She is presented in all four Gospels not only as a witness of Jesus' sufferings and death, but also as a witness to His resurrection.  In fact, Mary is the first person to see Jesus after He had risen.

The four Gospel accounts present different glimpses of the events of that first Sunday morning, and it is not my purpose here to harmonize them, though it can easily be done.  John's account seems clearest and the most moving.  After reporting to the disciples that the tomb was empty and following Peter and John back to the empty tomb (John 20:1-10) Mary was left standing weeping outside the tomb (11-13a).  Looking in, she saw two angels who asked why she was weeping.

John 20:13b -16: "She said to them, 'Because they have taken away my Lord and I don't know where they've put Him!'  When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there but didn't know it was Jesus.
          Jesus said to her, 'Woman why are you weeping?  Who are you looking for?'
          She supposed He was the gardener and said to Him, 'Sir, if you've taken Him away, tell me where you've laid Him and I'll get Him!'
          Jesus said to her, 'Mary.'  She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, 'Rabboni' (which means 'teacher')!"

We can almost feel Mary's tears.  She had followed her Lord; she had seen Him suffer and die a horrible death; she had gone to the tomb for one final glance; she had felt the horror of finding that His body was missing.  I'm sure that after she saw Him alive, her tears did not cease but became tears of joy.
 
The story continues.  Mary announces to the others what has happened and they disbelieve at first, till Jesus appears to them.  Mary's name is not mentioned again and she disappears from the accounts - except for one final note.  Luke in the Book of Acts - his second volume - tells us that after Jesus had ascended to Heaven, "The disciples returned to Jerusalem ... they went up to the upper room where they were staying ... All these were devoting themselves with one mind in prayer continually, along with the women ..." (Acts 1:2-14).